With the abundance of rivers flowing across this sunny Texas Hill Country, it's no wonder that paddling and floating are so incredibly popular here. Most of the area's rivers and creeks would be classified as quietwater, but they can occasionally get flowing quite powerfully (and sometimes dangerously) after big rains upstream. Generally, though, the area is more drought-prone than flood-prone. Either way, it's a good idea to check conditions before you head out.
This narrow and twisting creek offers tight, technical challenges for more experienced paddlers. It's one of the area's most popular and convenient (very close to downtown) waterways, and it's also one of the most beautiful. The fern-draped, craggy limestone cliffs that line Barton Creek are quite undeveloped, giving paddlers a sense of solitude right in the middle of the city. Water levels at Barton Creek vary dramatically depending on recent rainfall. After heavy rains, the creek runs swiftly and strongly for a couple of days. During that time, be careful of banks and trees and come prepared for some rough waters. As water levels diminish, the creek becomes suitable for those with less experience. Most of the time, though, Barton Creek runs at very low levels. So hit the water while there's an opportunity!
Big, wide, and usually quite calm, Town Lake draws canoeists, kayakers, and even sculling boats to downtown Austin. Dams form the upper and lower ends of the lake, and boaters play in the moving water when the upstream dam is releasing. Otherwise, paddlers enjoy cruising the shore and checking out turtles, ducks, geese, and snakes. No motorized boats are allowed on Town Lake.
The Pedernales, Llano and Blanco Rivers
These three rivers are similar in characternarrow waterways surrounded by dense woodlands, which can mild or wild, depending on recent rainfall. They're usually quiet and slow, but can get dangerously high (with challenging whitewater) after a heavy rain.
The Guadalupe River
One of the Hill Country's most popular rivers, the Guadalupe, located south of Austin, would normally be classified as a"fun, solid, Class II to III," according to Dan Buerstetta of Austin Canoe and Kayak, but in the hot summers it sometimes slows to a trickle. Water levels are largely dependant on whether they're releasing water upstream at the dam on Canyon Lake. But the Guadalupe, with its cool, clear blue-green waters, is one of the area's most consistent rivers. For that reason, it can be quite crowded with folks floating down on inner tubes.
The San Marcos River
Because of its origins, this spring-fed river is one of the most consistent in the Hill Country. It's a solid Class IIa little milder than the Guadalupe, but it can be counted on. This narrow little waterway runs through some very diverse flora and fauna, which makes for a pleasant and scenic float.
Lake Travis and the Highland Lakes
This chain of lakes, formed by the damming of the Colorado River, offer plenty of flatwater opportunities for paddlers in the Hill Country. Folks especially enjoy cruising through the many coves along the lakeshores. One of the most scenic spots, locals say, is Colorado Bend State Park north of Lake Buchanan. This narrow stretch of river, with its gentle cascading waterfalls and limestone pools, is extremely secluded and offers some excellent wildlife watching opportunities. This is great place for spotting Bald Eagles, which are known to roost here in the winter.
Special thanks to Dan Buerstetta, owner of Austin Canoe and Kayak, for his help with this section of Austin Outdoors.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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